Jellyfish (Meduzot): Tale of Israeli Women, Winner of cannes Fest Camera d’Or

Cannes Film Fest 2007 (Critics Week)— Israeli cinema is experiencing a record this year with no less than three films playing at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival: “Psalms” (“Tehilim”) in the Main Competition, “The Band’s Visit” (“Bikkur Hatizmoret”) at “Certain Regard,” and “Jellyfish” (“Meduzot”) at Critics’ Week.

Jellyfish won the Cannes’ Camera d’Or, a prestigious prize that honors first films. “Band’s Visit” won the Fipresci and other awards. It’s therefore a pleasure to report that both pictures have landed estimable American distributors: “Band’s Visit” will be released by Sony Classics in February 2008, and “Jellyfish” by Zeitgeist in April. Both films are playing at the 2008 Palm Springs Film Festival in early January.

Femme-driven but decidedly not a chick flick in the Hollywood tradition, the poignant, occasionally witty “Jellyfish” tells the story of three very different Tel Aviv women whose intersecting lives weave an intriguing portrait of modern Israeli life.

Batya (Sarah Adler), a catering waitress, is one of the servers at the wedding reception of Michael (Gera Sandler) and Keren (Noa Knoller), a bride who breaks her leg escaping a locked toilet stall, which ruins her chance at a dream Caribbean honeymoon. Also attending the event with an employer is Joy (Ma-nenita De Latorre), a domestic worker who has guiltily left her son behind in her native Philippines. As this distaff trio separately wends their way through Israel’s big, cosmopolitan city, they struggle with problems communication, affection and destiny, often finding refuge in its tranquil sea.

Co-directors Etgar Keret and Shira Geffen, acclaimed fiction-writers, make an impressive feature debut with this cleverly constructed serio-comedy, whose tone variegates between the serious and existential to the more comedic, whimsical, and even surreal.

A prolific writer, with a track record of short stories, essays, and scripts, Keret has an eccentric, offbeat sensibility, as was evident in his source material for the Sundance indie hit, “Wristcutters,” about a bunch of guys whose life after death is not that different from the one before they committed suicide.

In the pre-credits act, we see Batya and her boyfriend breaking up. Before leaving, he asks Batya, “Don’t you want to say something to me” Unable to respond, Batya just stands still. That it’s not the end of the world for either becomes clear as the soundtrack plays Edith Piaf’s signature song, “La Vie en Rose.”

Perhaps influenced by films of Altman and his disciples, the sprawling, episodic tale interweaves characters whose paths crisscross but do not always interact directly with one another.

Batya is the product of divorced parents; she communicates with them mostly through answering machine. One day, she spots on the beach a little girl (Nikol Leidman) coming out of the water nearly naked. The sad child, who doesn’t speak, attaches herself to Batya and gradually helps her senior come to terms with her own past. The movie ends symmetrically in a similar image with the girl and the sea in circumstances that can’t be disclosed here.

The Filipino domestic worker Joy, who attends Michael and Keren’s reception with one of her employers, works for an agency that specializes in providing care to the querulous elderly. Like Batya, she communicates with her son in the Philippines via telephone. Though an economic necessity, ironically, Joy is paid to provide care for other people’s parents, while someone else looks after her child.

Malka (Zaharira Harifai, a noted stage actress), one of Joy’s older clients, is critical of her actress daughter, perceiving her as narrow-minded and self-centered, but she has not lost her humanity and is able to comfort Joy.

In this picture, the sea represents a place of solace, comfort, and refuge, with jellyfish as a metaphor for fluidity of human identities under ever-changing circumstances. Running water seems to be the dominant motif: Batya lives in an apartment in which the ceiling is leaking. Plans for their Caribbean honeymoon are disrupted when the bride breaks a leg climbing out of a locked toilet. There is a nice comic moment, when Keren’s wedding dress itself looks like a jellyfish.

Like “Band’s Visit,” “Jellyfish” is a quiet, subtle movie with many comic and even lyric moments that display sharp observational powers of human behavior.

End Note

Winner of Camera d’Or at Cannes Festival, “Jellyfish” has screened at Telluride, Toronto and other prestigious film festivals. After its upcoming screening at the Palm Springs Film Festival in January 2008, “Jellyfish” will open theatrically in New York on April 4 at the Angelika and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas. The film will open in Los Angeles April 11 with other cities to follow.

Cast

Sarah Adler
Nikol Leidman
Gera Sandler
Noa Knoller
Ma-nenita De Latorre
Zaharira Harifai
Ben Yaakov

Credits

A Lama Films (Israel) & Les Films du Poisson (France) production, supported by the Israel Film Fund in co-production with Arte France Cinema, with the participation of Canal Plus, TPS Star, Keshet.
Produced by Amir Harel, Ayelet Kait, Yael Fogiel, Laetitia Gonzalez.
Directed by Etgar Keret, Shira Geffen. Screenplay: Geffen.
Camera: Antoine Heberle.
Editors: Sasha Franklin, Francois Gedigier.
Music: Christopher Bowen.
Production designer: Avi Fahima.
Costume designer: Li Almebik.
Sound: Gil Toren, Olivier Do Huu & Aviv Aldema.

Running time: 79 Minutes.